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SRC puts protest action at Wits University on 24-hour ice, but warns against further suspension of student leaders

SRC puts protest action at Wits University on 24-hour ice, but warns against further suspension of student leaders
Suspended Wits SRC president Aphiwe Mnyamana. (Photo: Supplied)

Amid ongoing protests against financial exclusion and accommodation caps at Wits University, management has confirmed issuing suspension orders for students including student representative council president Aphiwe Mnyamana.

The protest action at Wits University  is on hold for 24 hours, according to the Student Representative Council.

Kamogelo Mabe, SRC deputy president, told Daily Maverick that in a press briefing earlier  on Wednesday, it was announced that the SRC has agreed to halt protests  for 24 hours “on the condition that police presence and private security presence on the university campus are removed, no further suspensions of student leaders are made and the lifting of the current suspensions on student leaders be considered”.

This is the latest development after the institution issued a warning that it is “dealing with alleged reports of misconduct by students” and instituting “relevant disciplinary proceedings including issuing suspension orders”.

Following his suspension from the university, incumbent Wits SRC president Aphiwe Mnyamana tweeted on Monday: “The peaceful protest will continue with or without me.”

According to university management, Mnyamana was suspended on that day (6 March) owing to allegations relating to “conduct that infringed on the rights of others, resulted in damage to property, and the intimidation of members of the university community, amongst other things”.

It also banned Mnyamana from Wits precincts and from participating in university activities until legal processes are concluded.

Wits senior communications officer Buhle Zuma told Daily Maverick that Mnyamana is one of several students suspended. 

“The legal office is dealing with further reports of misconduct by students, and as it continues to process the evidence, it will continue to institute the relevant disciplinary processes, including the issuing of suspension orders, in line with the university’s rules for student discipline”.

Mnyamana was expected to appear at a suspension hearing scheduled for Monday but said he had requested a postponement until Tuesday.

“Immediately after receiving the suspension order I did notify Wits University that I’m in no position to attend the hearing and that it must be postponed to Tuesday… However, they ignored my request and decided to persecute me without trial,” Mnyamana told SABC News.

He added: “I was expecting the suspension. The campus security told me on Saturday that my suspension was on its way. I told them I will gladly receive it but I will not retreat because the grounds of the suspension are null and void.”

Mnyamana’s suspension comes after he and protesting Wits students threatened to march to vice-chancellor Professor Zeblon Vilakazi’s house “to put pressure”. 

The confirmation of Mnyamana’s suspension has received a backlash from mostly students on social media, with many accusing the institution of silencing and victimising students instead of dealing with challenges and student demands.

In a memorandum, the SRC demands:

  • All students who were registered in 2022 and are academically eligible to return to Wits should be allowed to register (including part-time and occasional students);
  • Wits University should absorb the approximate R86-million accommodation budget shortfall created as a result of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) capping on-campus accommodation at R45,000 per annum;
  • NSFAS-funded students in off-campus accommodation should not be required to pay a deposit, should not pay top-ups, and all accredited buildings must make provision for NSFAS-funded students at the NSFAS rates;
  • An additional 1,000 beds must be added to the current 500 hardship accommodation beds provided;
  • All students who have met the academic requirements of their programmes but who are blocked from graduating due to outstanding fees must be allowed to graduate, irrespective of the outstanding debt amount;
  • The R10,000 deposit required to access a Wits residence must be waived. This waiver should be available to all students;
  • All students must be provided with data to help mitigate against the impact of load shedding and taking the socioeconomic circumstances of students into account;
  • Academic recovery or catch-up plans must be put in place for all students who registered late;
  • All suspensions must be withdrawn, the legal action through ENS must be withdrawn, and campus must be “demilitarised” through the presence of private security and the police immediately;
  • International students should pay 40% of their fees up-front, as opposed to the 75% current requirement;
  • Hardship applications for students previously assisted by the Wits Hardship Fund;
  • Earlier release of hardship accommodation beds in support of medical students; and;
  • Hardship criteria should be broader for postgraduate students.

Read in Daily Maverick:NSFAS – the state bursary scheme at the root of SA students’ outcry in 2023

As of Sunday, 5 March 2023, after the students spent the entire weekend demonstrating, Wits management noted the demands, saying:

“Subject to available resources and keeping in mind the long-term sustainability of the university, the university remains committed to working with the SRC on resolving these matters, and to exploring ways of finding permanent solutions to these issues. The university however notes that many of these are sectoral issues which will require sectoral-level interventions.”


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In response to the student suspensions, Lungile Magagula, the interim chairperson of the student forum executive, which represents all student bodies including the residence council, postgraduate association, the SRC and all faculty councils, said:  

“It is our view of the student forum that the vice-chancellor and the senior executive team have broken their oaths of office in administrating good governance structures as they have resorted to fearmongering tactics on student leaders through threats and handing out of suspension letters. Militarisation and securitisation of university precinct whilst students are exercising their democratic rights to protest and demonstrate. These actions are unjustified and do require, in our view, the notice of the university council.”

See Magagula’s full open letter to the institution here:

Wits graduate Bonga Makhanya tweeted: “Wits students are clear. President of Wits has been isolated, persecuted and now assaulted for championing a genuine cause and for confronting the powers that be at Wits. Is this how Wits and South Africa treats its youth?”

Another student said: “Wits must hear the students request and give them opportunities they raise valid reasons on the table….this is what they did to Dlamini…the fight is not over students issues are important.”

Students from other institutions have joined the conversation too.

“We ask them to talk about solutions. They give us suspension letters. We want to make our voices heard because they don’t want to hear it. They call SAPS. Students must stand by our leaders in Wits, UJ and UKZN. Support the cause in numbers. A Luta Continua!” wrote Tarik Lalla, a student at the University of Pretoria.

Another said: “This is an old tactic by University management to silence leaders and the voice of students. Wits community must stand up and defend the student leader while putting more pressure to get their demands met by the arrogant and selfish Wits management. They must unite more than before and persue the struggle of access and accommodation.”

While the focus is on Wits, student protests are taking place across various institutions including the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Westville Campus and the Tshwane University of Technology. DM

Additional reporting by Alinaswe Lusengo

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bill Gild says:

    One can only hope that WITS doesn’t follow Max Price’s appalling spinelessness in dealing with thuggery on campus .

  • John Smythe says:

    Peaceful protests? Yeah! Right! Pull the other one. The irony is that it’s the peaceful students that just want to get onto campus without the threat of physical harm from the SRC. No SRC event has ever been peaceful.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Pay back what you owe and you get your degree. Simple as that. the behaviour of these protesters and usual cap in hand attitude is a sign of the future for generations. pity them and this country.

  • R S says:

    Students are protesting at universities when they should be taking their protests to Loot-huli House and NSFAS offices.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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